Tell No One by Barbara Taylor Sissel

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Come back, come back, come back, as if his return- her family’s restoration to their once-upon-a-time life- were a matter of asking, or begging, or any words at all.

Caroline’s aunt Lanie is dying and desperate to see her brother, Garret “Hoff” Hoffman before she passes away. Caroline’s mother tells her ‘it’s a fool’s errand’ to even try, no one knows where he disappeared to, only that he left a trail of heartbreak behind. What caused her once loving dad to walk away? But Caroline’s beloved aunt is more like a mother to her, salvation during the years after her parents divorced. Caroline’s tender early memories seem to arise more lately and when she returns to the past and seeks out coach Kelly, she finds it troubling that his son Jace seems to be hiding something, protecting his now elderly father. Once a boy she spent happy days with, he seems to want to dodge ever question she puts to his father, even though the old coach wants to reminisce, adamantly telling her ‘dad needs to rest.’ A warning comes soon after in the form of an ‘accident’, someone really is trying to keep her from finding out what happened to her father.

Harris is the child who Hoff raised for a time when he abandoned his old life, and Caroline. Harris looked up to Hoff, with football in common as Hoff was a recruiter, he finally had a man to emulate and love, but those days are buried and he is haunted by his own terrible guilt now that he himself is a father.  One thing Caroline and Harris have in common is their failing marriages. The cracks in Caroline’s life is all about her husband Rob’s lies and betrayals, his devious business dealings but for Harris it is his increasing nightmares, closing his wife Holly out. There are some shameful secrets that cannot be told, not even to his wife but there are other things to turn to when trying to tame one’s demons. His life appears perfect on paper with his career, his beautiful sons and loyal wife. But the past can’t be buried.

Truth will out, but it isn’t always what you imagine. Bad guys, good guys sometimes the distance is only a hair’s breadth between the two. If grave moments could only remain hidden and not rise up to torment us, then the past wouldn’t haunt. In seeking answers, Caroline must come to terms with what she built up as her father’s reasons in her mind with the truth. Harris was everything Caroline could never be, the perfect son! Right? Accidents and incidents have long reaching consequences. Many of Caroline’s choices of the heart stem from feeling discarded by her father, as far back as her high school years. We are shaped by other’s actions sometimes, even when we consciously attempt to remain unaffected. At times the hand of fate, chance turns us into someone we’re not, and there is no reasoning with it. This novel dips into several stories, Caroline and her daughter reeling after discovering Rob’s deceptive crimes, while she is trying to confront her past and find her father. Holly and Harris drifting apart because he cannot confide what disturbs him. Their sons Kyle and Connor his pride but there is a wild struggle within Harris to be a better father than his own influence and yet he is failing, railing against himself. Everything that has happened returns to the moment when Caroline was still the apple of her daddy’s eyes, until her father’s fall in the stands.

This is a solid story, engaging but sometimes I wanted to stay in Caroline’s world and felt pulled in many directions. Hoff’s tale is interesting, sometimes the biggest threat doesn’t come from outside of us, but within.

Publication Date: May 14, 2019

Lake Union Publishing

 

 

 

 

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The Winter Sister:A Novel by Megan Collins

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Strange, now, to think of it, now that I was so far from that world, sucked back into the one I’d thought I’d peeled off of me like a sunburn.

Winter Sister, at its heart, is about more than the death of Persephone, Sylvie’s older sister. It’s about their mother’s ‘history of silence’ and strange ‘dark days’. Sylvie, before the tragedy of Persephone’s murder destroyed her mother, lived in the spotlight of her mother’s love, a tenderness that never seemed to shine over Persephone. Sylvie is the favored one, because she reminds their mother of the man who got away, according to her mom. With their independent mom, who could “love us more than a hundred fathers ever could” there was never any reason to know who those flings were. Perseophone never quite feels that all encompassing adoration and attention, and could have used a father’s love.

Sylvie thinks she harbors all the secrets that matter, that her shameful act the last night she saw her sister alive makes her as guilty of her murder as the actual killer. Persephone was forbidden to date, her mother knew nothing about Ben and their volatile relationship, nor the hidden fingertip sized bruises he left on her beautiful skin. Sylvie knows he killed her sister with his dangerous, brutal love but no one would ever accuse the mayor’s son of such an act, despite the reports that she mattered as “one of Spring Hill’s own”, Sylvia knows her sister is nothing to the town. In truth, they were never truly a part of Spring Hill. It takes the loss of her mother, when she most needs her to be present and the passage of time to see clearly what she missed sixteen years ago.

Present day and Sylvie works in a tattoo parlor, no longer known as ‘Persephone’s Sister’, having long ago shed that skin and reinvented a past for herself that doesn’t carry the tragic air of loss. In her new life, her sister hasn’t been murdered. On the night of her thirtieth birthday, the call comes about her mother’s cancer. Aunt Jill had stepped up and cared for her when her mother retreated to her room and from life in the aftermath of Persephone’s murder. Now, Aunt Jill is needed desperately by her own child, stretched too thin it’s time Sylvie do her duty and return home to help her mother through treatment. Never once had her mother checked in on her, not once did she give her the comfort she desperately needed after losing her beloved sister and now, she’s meant to play devoted, caring daughter to a mother she hasn’t spoken to in years, still just as bitter and mean as ever. To make matters worse, Ben works as a nurse at the cancer center, Ben who Sylvie is adamant got away with killing her sister.

In confronting the past, she must also question her mother’s coldness towards her sister all those years before she was killed. Could she have been the one abusing her? Why did it seem like they both shared a different mother? Has what she believed about Ben been wrong all this time? If not Ben, then who had reason to hurt Persephone? It is about being too young to understand the dynamics of relationships, being between childhood and adult things. It is a bond between sisters and how their mother’s attention or lack there of spills over into their interactions with each other, fueling resentment at times, and yet Persephone and Sylvie always chose each other, until one night Sylvie thinks she knows a way to save her sister from all consuming dangerous love. A decision she will regret all her life, a boulder of grief she carries in her gut.

Why didn’t her mother ever care enough to share in their grief together? Why is Ben telling a story that puts Persephone in a wildly different light? Maybe she didn’t know her sister as well as she thought, or built her own version of their love based on the evidence she saw. Could she really have been wrong all this time? Her mother is sober now, and it’s frightening, her vulnerability. “How much of Persephone’s relationship with Mom had I missed? How many small but accumulating hurts and dismissals had I filtered out over the years, swathed, as I’d been, in Mom’s arms?” Anaïs Nin once wrote, “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are” and that could be the title of this book. The truths Sylvie has held in her mind begin to disintegrate upon her return home, with the clarity of adult eyes. She is stunted, she hasn’t been living her life fully since that night. I found what moved me more than the ‘who done it’ is the dysfunction in her family, that each person’s history in the same home can be outrageously different, and the truth lies somewhere in between. Youth is often a cloud that plays with memory. Fear, too, can color how we behave, or raise our children but when a child needs their mother, there is never an explanation good enough to exonerate her actions. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: February 5, 2019

Touchstone

Atria Books

Not a Clue: A Novel by Chloé Delaume, Dawn M Cornelio (Translator)

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You’re all even more sealed off from your environment than from yourselves, have been for a long time.

We are told in the beginning there are six patients and ‘you killed me. One of you or maybe each of you.” The murdered is Dr. Black, each of the accused patients at Paris’s St. Anne’s Hospital is gathered to play a life-size game of clue. The murderer really isn’t important, the novel lends itself to unraveling minds, and the writing can induce nervousness, anxiety, depression, confusion, anger, paranoia the list goes on. How to trust minds that don’t even trust themselves? This is not an easy read, and may well slip through the cracks of reader’s minds, myself included. I think I get it, some of it, but confess to being lost here and there. This is challenging reading, certainly creative writing that plays with and bites you in turns. I was exhausted, just as exhausted as the wounded characters. The author has lived through tragedy herself, I won’t go on about that, though certainly it must lend itself to her work as anything in life touches us, from tragedy to the most mundane moments, if you’re curious just look her up.

I got to the point that I didn’t care about killer, murderer and found I was far more invested in the why. Why is each patient sick, who brought them here or why did they come of ‘their own volition’. What about life disturbed this ‘chorus of misfits’ so much that they broke? There is a lot to trudge through, and if you aren’t one who reads literary fiction, who accuses certain books of being ‘too wordy’ then move along. “In her head, Aline was talking loud. In your head it’s always very easy to talk so loud you bother yourself.” There are certainly gems, beautiful writing between these pages. I’m not sure I’ve grasped the writer’s purpose but there seems to be any manner of meaning one can find.

Each patient brings their damage to the table, to the game. Life has had its way, and the result lies in forgetting, vacancy, or best yet becoming a revisionist. Aren’t we all, in our own precious way revisionists? Some look at themselves and are horrified, maybe it is better not to look at oneself too closely. One of my favorite lines “I can feel the word solitude.”  Solitude not a horror for the patient, but a comfort, a necessity. One of the b&l’s (The Bipolars and the Like) goes on to discuss the torment of memories, wanting to be emptied out. To express the pain of not wanting to accept the particular body given, well… it’s hard  not to the polish that little nugget of wisdom. To not understand in some circumstances that with so much internal struggle, you are bound to be swallowed by tidal waves. It’s eye-opening to think about the difference between temptation and those with illnesses they don’t chose. Never being able to avoid their mental torment as an alcoholic or drug addict can deny themselves (if even for a moment) their fix. Those with their poor polluted brains, their vanishing or rotting memories gathered together, afraid of who they are in the outside world, suspects, pariahs, discarded for your reading pleasure. Most didn’t have a say in their pollution, their fog.

Then there is the Omniscient Narratrix, a ‘psychological harassment’ to all fictional characters who should really be charged with a crime too, all those ‘repeated offenses’ against characters just trying to live, much like real people, without judgement or humiliation. A god, who wants to manage its cast, make them be better or worse than they are. Oh the hell of literature! Then there is the writer who won’t interfere, laughable because that’s all writers do is interfere. The characters in this novel are in revolt, and refuse to be managed! There will be no established form, this book is inhabited by characters that want to be left alone, to simply exist whether worse for wear or not, and remain unimproved if they so chose. Not A Clue thumbs it’s nose at how we say things, and Delaume disturbs the text, shakes things up. She is testing narrative conventions, breaking out of themes, toying with the setting, blowing up the plot because I am still not fully certain of the plot here. It works but it also confuses the hell out of you, or maybe just me.

If you want to read something wildly different, this is it. I liked it and at times found it aggravating, sort of like my own life. For me,  room I want to visit is what is real for the patients, not for arrogance of repairing them but simply to see their perspective. Not A Clue certainly is a unique read, though won’t be everyone’s drug of choice, ha.

Publication Date: December 1, 2018

University of Nebraska Press

 

You Were Always Mine: A Novel by Nicole Baart

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Evan wasn’t dead. Jess knew that. She knew it deep down in a place where she believed there was still a connection between herself and the man she had once called her home.

A busy school day morning, much like any other, is disrupted when Jess receives a phone call from a man named Deputy Mike Mullen near Minneapolis. There has been an accident, a middle-aged man is dead, but there is no way it could be her husband Evan. Recently separated,  but trying to work on their problems, she’d certainly know if he had traveled out of Iowa. The body has no identification, it doesn’t sound like him, his hair wasn’t gray! Why was her phone number in the victim’s pocket? This is the first mystery that will close around she and her children, her adoptive son Gabe in particular.

Dr. Evan Chamberlain’s abilities to provide for his family has never come into question nor his fierce dedication and passion to his practice. All his hard work has left little time for Jess and the children, consumed by his job she has felt their love receding. Separated, divorce looms but neither seems to be urgent to make final decisions.  She could never get enough of him, always wondered with wounded pride if he felt the deep love for her that she felt for him. With his distance, constant distraction, forgetting important meaningful dates, cooled passions, doubt crept in. Now this. When Evan doesn’t show up to pick the children up, nor answer her calls she has to face there might be more to this dead stranger, and her husband could be involved.

A closed adoption brought Gabe into the couple’s life, it suited her needs to be the only mother he would ever know.  After the call, and what follows, a break in occurs at her home, related to the incident. Betrayal rises to the surface when she discovers Evan has been in intimate  contact for years with Gabe’s birth mother.  It is the least of his secrets, and his involvement in something sinister is going to unravel the secure life she has been living with her sons. Just who is this woman, how had Evan allowed her to worm her way in? What does this mean for Gabe? Though blessed to have a biological elder son Max, it doesn’t make Gabe any less hers that she isn’t his birth mother. Why did Evan feel the need to communicate with this woman? Wasn’t she enough? What was between them, really?

What her husband was involved in is bigger than their family and someone will stop at nothing to make sure they aren’t exposed. It isn’t just the intimate letters to Gabe’s mother, there are notes (maybe clues) written on a business card, maybe answers to what Evan was up to before tragedy struck. He wasn’t a man who hid things, it was against his nature to deceive, it is a burning mystery. So why then the sudden subterfuge? Why was he staying at a motel, there are other strange tidbits, shaky connections that don’t add up, only lead to more questions. Then a file is found full of names… codes. One, according to Deputy Mullen means ‘prostitution’, a strange thing to be among Evan’s personal effects. But names, and criminal codes aren’t answers either, just another thing to add to Evan’s peculiar behavior.

Her dear friend Meredith was the social worker involved in their adoption of Gabe, now an honorary Auntie and a major support for Jess. Lately, Meredith has doubts about Jess and her parenting.  All she cares about is seeing Gabe properly cared for, even if speaking out will hurt their friendship. Now Jess is being accused of things that could threaten her hold on her children. Why would someone want to do that? Could it all tie into whatever Evan was working on? How is all of this connected to Gabe’s adoption?

This is a hard review to write when one must tread lightly on giving away the plot twists. It’s about birth mothers, those who manipulate women without choices, the good intentions that can sour clear thinking and the passion to right grievous wrongs even at the very risk of your own life.  It’s a psychological mystery about the underbelly of adoption. It’s about being so consumned by something you know is wrong, that those who need you desperately become impossible to see.

Not every reader will like Jessica, but her fierce devotion to her adoptive son and comfort in a closed adoption can be understood as fear is a great motivator. The threat of another woman, always looming somewhere out there makes such adoptions ideal, as much as said biological mother may not wish to be found. Maybe it’s easier for people, like social worker Meredith, to imagine those mothers as abusive, cold creatures, unfit women so they can swoop in and save the precious little ones. What if the narrative is wrong? What if in desperation people are urged to act against their wishes, until it is too late. What happens when those working the system abuse it? Should you remain blind if you yourself benefited?

Publication Date: October 16, 2018

Atria Books

When Your Eyes Close by Tanya Farrelly

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The images shift between his life and the unknown.

Nick Drake has always had a taste for alcohol, but now he is so far gone that if he can’t get it under control, the doctors will refuse to put him on a transplant list and this is do or die! With a divorce behind him, life has had its difficulties, and with AA failing to help maybe hypnosis is the key. As he closes his eyes during a session, his life is swallowed by memories of someone else. Soon the visions playing in his head turn into to a blood filled nightmare about another man and his family, a man who may well have been a murderer. Surely this is some confabulation in his mind, this can’t be real! But what if it is? What if these are someone else’s memories, or his own from another life? They feel as real to him as his own.

Michelle is Nick’s girlfriend, she has known something is terribly wrong, that he was keeping things from her, but she never could have imagined the wild truth. There is another woman, but one that may have been Nick’s child, when he was someone else, in another time. This person is real, Caitlin is a solid, living breathing reality, not just some fantasy he conjured while under hypnosis. She will find a way to help dig into Caitlin’s life, because if Nick’s ‘memories’ under hypnosis are make believe, how come the people in them existed, the child now fully grown, a violinist, very much alive and real. Getting to know Caitlin seems all too easy at first, even if at times a wall comes up, or things don’t pan out, she refuses to give up, she’ll do anything to help Nick pull through because if he has a chance to get better, Caitlin is the key.

Caitlin’s husband disappeared a year ago, she has received a call from man saying only that he is still alive and not to try to find him. She has built a life for herself, despite the mystery surrounding David’s disappearance. Stranger still are the odd messages on social media. Her friend Andy has been an oak through the long days of not knowing what happened to David, but can she really trust him? Is he just trying to take David’s place? Now there is a strange new couple, Michelle and Nick in her life and some things about them seem a little too coincidental. She likes Michelle, wants to trust in her new friend, surely they couldn’t have nefarious plans, they couldn’t be the ones sending her messages, though they happened at the same time as she bumped into  Nick for the first time, which he claims not to remember, says didn’t happen. Caitlin is schooled in controlling her emotions since her traumatic childhood, and doesn’t trust anyone nor take what they say at face value. As Michelle tries to ease into Caitlin’s life, to help Nick get answers, Caitlin isn’t so honest and forthcoming and is fishing for her own clues about Nick and Michelle.

With Nick wanting nothing more than to make right by Catilin this time around, they begin to dig into her husband David’s disapparance, never imagining it could endanger Caitlin, that maybe she has her own secrets. Reaching into Caitlin’s childhood past, Michelle finds an aunt who knows more than she ever told about Caitlin’s youth.  Then there were David’s secrets before he vanished, that begs more questions. What Caitlin remembers and confides to her new ‘friend’ Michelle doesn’t quite add up to what they know for fact, nor the memories haunting Nick’s mind. It could be a defense mechanism, but what if there is more?

Are some things better left alone? If Nick wasn’t meant to act on these memories, why is he having them at all? Someone has secrets, what began in blood could very well end in it.

Told in shifting perspectives, it’s easy to know that nothing is simple. It has a supernatural bend with Nick channeling a murderer that may have been him, in another life. But it’s also a psychological thriller with damaged characters, the past definitely catches up with people here. It is a story with a decent twist, though it crawled in places. I would have enjoyed it more if I was only in one character’s head, being in all three underwhelmed me because I never felt close enough to anyone but the very idea is enough to sell the story. It is a unique twist on what could have been a bittersweet story of past life, which we’ve read before, here we have a fresh, sinister spin on things.

Available Now!

HarperCollins UK

HarperImpulse